Donna Brazile has been involved in politics since the age of nine.
The New Orleans native and Washington, D.C. power broker has, in her words, been cooking with grease and stirring the pots in America for quite some time.
“I’ve had many experiences,” Brazile said. “I’ve worked on every presidential campaign since Jimmy Carter and I’m glad to have been at the table of American history when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.”
Brazile, 53, was born in Kenner, La. One of nine children, she said she was afraid of the swamp creatures, which proved the only things to have ever frightened the tough-as-nails political mover and shaker.
She fought her first political campaign as a little girl, successfully campaigning for a city council candidate who promised to build a playground in her neighborhood.
Like many African Americans, Brazile’s life changed profoundly on April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated and she said that event prompted her to dedicate her life to political and social activism.
“We’ve come a long way since Dr. King’s historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” Brazile said. “We’re not there yet. We’re still on the path of freedom and equality. We know that today little black boys and little black girls can’t always sit at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood. We know that people of color are still judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character,” she said.
The founder and managing director of the D.C.-based consultant, grassroots and advocacy training firm, Brazile & Associates, she’s a much sought after Democratic political strategist.
She is the vice chair of voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and former interim National Chair of the Democratic National Committee in Southeast.
She is also former chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute also located in Southeast.
“I come from a place where talking politics comes as naturally as stirring a pot of seafood gumbo,” said Brazile, author of the critically-acclaimed book, “Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in America.”
“Cooking with grease is a metaphor for how to keep things cooking in American politics,” she said. “It’s hard to get anywhere in life without stirring things up. For a Louisana native, I like to stir up my native dishes like dirty rice, gumbo, and red beans. Something special.”
Brazile served as chief of staff and press secretary to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton where she helped guide the District’s budget and local legislation on Capitol Hill.
She became the first African-American woman ever to run a major presidential campaign when she guided Al Gore’s 2000 bid for the White House.
An adjunct professor at Georgetown University, Brazile’s schedule also includes writing a regular column for Ms. Magazine, O, the Oprah Magazine, and as an on-air contributor for CNN, and ABC News. She has also dabbled in acting, with cameo appearances on the CBS television series, “The Good Wife.”
O, the Oprah Magazine, chose Brazile as one of its 20 remarkable visionaries for the magazine’s first “O Power List.” She was also named among the 100 Most Powerful Women by Washingtonian Magazine and was named among the Top 50 Most Powerful Women by Essence Magazine.
A recipient of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s highest award for political achievement, Brazile said plenty of work remains.
In an emotional speech Feb. 7 at the Department of Veteran Affairs in Northwest, Brazile spoke of the importance of Black History Month and she also spoke fondly of her late father, Lionel Brazile, Sr., whom she recently lost.
“When I think of my father, of how proud he’d be of his little Donna speaking to the Veterans Administration, and of what he went through,” Brazile said.
“My father’s life was a journey on that freedom and equality road. He walked it every day, sometimes running, sometimes stumbling, but he never got lost, never went down a side street or a blind alley. He always knew the sign posts, and always knew which way to go, which path led to freedom and equality.”
Brazile said she’s still reeling from the loss of her father, a decorated Korean War veteran, and, most recently, her sister. But, she said, the fight to realize King’s dream continues.
“Round numbers give us a sense of completion. So we celebrate them,” she said. “[It’s been] 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, 50 years since the March on Freedom. But those dates and those events are not islands unto themselves. It is a long day’s journey to the crossroads, where the signs point the direction that says ‘this way freedom and equality, that way the opposite.”
Brazile noted that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan.1, 1863 despite being announced three months earlier on Sept. 22, 1862. She said the Constitution was ratified on Sept. 17, 1787, but it took 75 years before “We the people” included African Americans.
“There were in our history many half-steps and false steps,” she said. “The Missouri Compromise, the Dred Scott Decision and Amistad, which ironically means friendship in Spanish, a ship carrying 54 Africans to a life of slavery. They freed themselves, but ended up imprisoned in America, waiting for the Supreme Court to decide if they were salvage property or free human beings.”
Brazile said so much of the dream is still just a dream. “We are not yet an oasis of freedom and justice although, in some ways, the re-election of Obama is more significant than his election four years ago,” she said.
“I say this not because I’m a Democrat,” Brazile said. “But, because this time, the dog whistles of racism were called out and condemned by people of faith and goodwill on both sides of the aisle. So, as we move forward on issues such as immigration reform, and on reducing gun violence that is killing our children and stealing our souls, as we come together to confront the challenges of energy, economy and environment, we must remember that we are moving forward as well toward that more perfect union.”